Cape Verde goes to polls for new president in economic turmoil

Cape Verde flag. National symbol waving on pole, Highrise building and clear blue sky background, sunny day. Indepedence day concept.

Cape Verdeans began voting in presidential elections on Sunday, in a contest marked by debate over the future for the tiny west African nation battered by the COVID-driven slump in global tourism.

Prior to the pandemic, visitors accounted for a quarter of the economy for the volcanic archipelago, a former Portuguese colony of half a million inhabitants lauded for its stable government and smooth democratic transitions of power.

GDP shrank by 14.8 percent last year and many hotels and restaurants closed as coronavirus fears and restrictions kept hundreds of thousands of visitors away.

Soaring inflation is another concern. Since the beginning of the month, the price of water and electricity has risen by 37 percent.

Small numbers of voters began turning up at polling stations in the capital of Praia at 7:00 am (0800 GMT), according to an AFP correspondent.

The first results are expected a few hours after the closing of polling stations at 6:00 pm (1900 GMT).

The two frontrunners among a record seven candidates are both former prime ministers: 72-year-old lawyer Carlos Veiga and academic Jose Maria Neves, 60.

Veiga represents the centre-right Movement for Democracy (MpD), which has a majority in parliament.

Neves stands for the opposition African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which ruled the former Portuguese colony when it was a one-party state.